Shattering False Security of Salvation Part 1 – Romans 2:17-24
Pastor Mark Hardy January 29, 2012
In 1937 the great Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, was completed at a cost of $77 million. It was built in two stages: The first stage went slowly and eventually ground to a halt because 23 men fell to their deaths due to a lack of safety devices. The workmen became paralyzed with fear as they helplessly watched some of their companions slip off the structure and fall into the water below, which was comparable to hitting a brick wall at 85 miles per hour. In the second stage of the project they remedied this problem by making the largest safety net ever built at a cost of $100,000 and hung it directly under the construction area. At least 10 men slipped and fell but they were caught by the net and saved from certain death. The security of the net enabled the work to be accomplished 25% faster because now the workmen felt confident that if they fell they wouldn’t die, which freed them to wholeheartedly give themselves to the project.
Everyone wants to feel a sense of security—to be free from danger, fear, and threat. They want physical security, national security, economic security, marital security, job security, financial security, home security, and health security. And yet, one’s sense of security in this fallen, sinful world can be lost in an instant through such things as: a dangerous situation, an enemy attack on our nation, an economic recession or depression, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a job, a financial reversal, a home burglary, contracting a chronic or life-threatening disease, and many other ways.
However, the most important security that people need, but often the most neglected, is eternal security, whereby they know for sure that they are saved and will go to heaven when they die. Since the fear of death and what follows is pervasive among unbelieving mankind, people without Christ try to give themselves a sense of eternal security in various ways. Some say that there is no life after death and that at death they will simply cease to exist. Others say they will be reincarnated into something else. But the majority of people base their eternal security on some means of works-righteousness, in that, if they can just be a good person, live a moral life, help the needy, or be a spiritual, religious person and go to church and be baptized then they can earn God’s favor and merit salvation.
But the Bible is very clear that as eternal beings we will all live somewhere forever and that there is only one way to heaven. Everything else that people trust in for salvation is a false security. This is what the apostle Paul exposes in the passage we will be looking at this morning.
Now having just stated in 2:1-16 six principles of God’s righteous judgment upon Jews and Gentiles alike who consider themselves to be good, moral people, Paul now focuses exclusively on the Jews in 2:17-3:8. Turn with me in your Bible to Romans 2.
In Romans 2:17-3:8 we see four wrong assumptions of the Jews that gave them a false sense of security about their salvation and exemption from God’s judgment. This morning we will be looking at only the first two in 2:17-24.
The first wrong assumption of the Jews is this:
I. Their Heritage can Save them
A. Look at the first part of v. 17: But if you bear the name “Jew…” (Stop there)
1. Here we see that Paul returns to the literary style known as “diatribe” that he used in vv. 1-5. This is where he has a conversation with an imaginary opponent, anticipates his objections, and then proceeds to answer them.
2. Now the imaginary opponent that he addresses as “you” here is explicitly identified as “Jew,” a representative of the whole Jewish race. From what Paul has just said about the principles of God’s righteous judgment in vv. 1-16, he anticipates this Jew’s saying something like this, “Come on Paul, surely God would not treat Jews the same as the Gentiles. The great privileges that we have been given by God not only show that He favors us more, but also protects us from His judgment.”
3. Therefore, before he begins to shatter the Jews false security of salvation, Paul first lists six of the wonderful privileges given to the Jews by God in vv. 17-20. He agrees that these are real, legitimate privileges as seen by the word “if” here in v. 17, which is a first class condition in the Greek meaning “if, and it’s true” or “since.”
4. As Paul’s states these six privileges to this imaginary representative Jew he is showing us why the Jews developed two of their wrong assumptions that gave them a false sense of security about their salvation and exemption from God’s judgment.
B. The first privilege is his heritage. Look again at the first part of v. 17 where Paul says: But if (or better “since”) you bear the name “Jew.”
1. The Jews are known as God’s chosen people, the descendents of Abraham. Three names have been used for them: “Hebrew” is their racial name because of the language they spoke; “Israel” is their national name because of the land God had promised and given to them according to His covenant with Abraham; and “Jew” is their religious name because they are the covenant people of God.
2. The word “Jew” (Ioudaios) literally means “one who is praised.” Originally, this was the name given to those in the tribe of Judah (Gen. 29:35; 49:8), one of the twelve tribes of Jacob, but during and after the Babylonian captivity, the name came to refer to the whole race that descended from Abraham through Isaac.
3. Every Jew took great pride in his or her name and Abrahamic descent because it not only represented their racial, national, and religious heritage, but it also denoted their distinction from all other peoples of the world. Moses said to Israel in Deuteronomy 10:15, “Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day.”
4. However, since the heritage of the Jews was their primary basis for their false security, seeing themselves as God’s favorites and automatically protected from judgment (Micah 3:11-12), Paul mentions this first. Because they were wrong!
5. John the Baptist addressed this very thing in Matthew 3:7-9: But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves ‘We have Abraham for our father;’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.”
6. The second wrong assumption of the Jews is this:
II. Their Law can Save them
A. Look at vv. 17-20: (After saying “Since you bear the name Jew Paul goes on to say to this representative Jew) …and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth.
1. The second privilege is his trust. Paul says, “Since you…rely upon the Law.”
• Here the “Law” refers to the Old Testament Scriptures. It encompassed all of God’s special revelation given to the Jews up until that time.
• Possessing the gift of the very Word of God was a superior blessing that no other nation had (Ps. 147:19-2o). It provided for them a superior education, for God’s Word is the source of spiritual refreshment, wisdom, and understanding even today (Deut. 4:6; Ps. 19:7-11; 119).
• Now to “rely upon” (epanapaue) means to “rest one’s hope on.” The Jew was absolutely right to rely on and rest in God’s true and righteous Word, for it alone is the only infallible standard by which we know truth from error and how we are to live our lives.
2. The third privilege is his boast. Paul says, “Since you…boast in God.”
• For the Jews to boast in God was a good thing. They had every right to be humbly grateful to the one true God and give glory and honor to Him who had graciously blessed them so much (Isa. 45:25; Jer. 9:23-24; Rom. 5:11; 15:17; 1 Cor. 1:31; 4:7; 2 Cor. 10:17; Phil. 3:3).
3. The fourth privilege is his knowledge. Paul says in v. 18, “Since you…know His will.”
• This is a reference to the will of God. By possessing the Law, God’s special revelation in the Old Testament Scriptures, the Jews not only knew the one true God, but they also had knowledge of His desires and plan.
• Now they had God’s perspective on what was right and wrong, what He required and forbid, commanded and prohibited, approved and disapproved, rewarded and punished.
• The psalmist said in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
4. The fifth privilege is his discernment. Paul says, “Since you…approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law.”
• The Jews had been continually “instructed” (katecheo) orally out of the Law as children in the home (i.e. catechism) and throughout their lifetime each Sabbath in the synagogues. Therefore, they were able to “approve” (dokimazeis) or discern after testing those things that are “essential” (diapheronta) or that really matter and are excellent (Matt. 23:23; Phil. 1:10).
• The psalmist goes on to say in Psalm 119:98, “Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine.”
5. The sixth privilege is his ministry. Paul says in vv. 19-20: Since you…“are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth.”
• Because all Jews had in the Law “the embodiment” (or repository) of divine knowledge and truth” (Ps. 119:66, 142), and was thoroughly knowledgeable of it, they in general and the scribes and Pharisees in particular, rightly considered themselves to be “confident” (pepoithas) or assured in their qualification to minister it to the world.
• God had given this responsibility to them. For in Genesis 12:3 God said to Abraham and his descendants, “And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen. 22:18; Isa. 2:1-4; Mic. 4:1-4; Jn. 4:22)
• Here we see that God intended the Jews to minister in four specific roles: First, as “a guide to the blind.” They were to be a “guide” or spiritual leader to the morally and spiritually blind Gentiles (Isa. 42:7; 2 Cor. 4:4).
• Second, as “a light to those who are in darkness.” The Jews who themselves had been enlightened by the Law were to enlighten the Gentiles who were in spiritual darkness (Isa. 9:2; 42:6; 49:6; 58:8; 60:3; Matt. 5:14-16).
• Third, as “a corrector of the foolish.” The Jews were to train and discipline or bring into line the spiritually “foolish” or ignorant, untrained, and immature Gentiles who didn’t know the Law.
• Fourth, as “a teacher of the immature.” The Jews were to teach the “immature” or spiritually infant Gentile proselytes who needed moral and religious instruction.
6. Now although the Jews rightly possessed these great and wonderful privileges concerning their heritage and the Law, the mere possession of these things became the source of their security of salvation and exemption from God’s judgment. And yet, they couldn’t be more wrong!
B. Therefore, Paul lovingly proceeds to shatter their false security of salvation by exposing their failure to live up to the truths that they knew through four piercing rhetorical questions in vv. 21-22.
1. Look at the first question in v. 21: You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?
2. This lead question contains the Jew’s central problem—the fact that he did not apply his teaching to himself. In other words, the Jew didn’t practice what he preached.
3. Here Paul is putting his finger on the Jews spiritual pride and hypocrisy. Although they possessed the law, knew the law, and taught the law to others, they didn’t live it out in their own lives.
4. Such Jews were typified by the scribes and Pharisees of whom Jesus said in Matthew 23:3, “…for they say things and do not do them.”
5. Since their lives were so contrary to God’s Law, therefore when they made an occasional convert to Judaism, this person didn’t trust in the true God and become obedient to His will, but went by the same man-made system of works-righteousness that they did.
6. Jesus said in Matthew 23:15, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”
7. Because of their failure to live out what they knew, the Jews were just as spiritually blind as those they were to guide. Jesus said about them in Matthew 15:14, “…they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matt. 23:16, 17, 19, 24; Isa. 42:19; 56:10)
8. Paul then gives three examples of flagrant violations of the law as evidence of the Jew’s failure to “teach himself” in the next three questions. The first violation is seen in the second question in v. 21: You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal?
• His point is “Yes you do steal” in many ways even though you preach against it (Isa. 56:11; Ez. 22:12; Amos 8:5; Mal. 3:8-9; Matt. 21:13; 23:14; Jn. 2:16). This is a violation of the eighth commandment (Ex. 20:15; Deut. 5:19).
9. The second violation is in the third question in v. 22: You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?
• Again he exposes that even though they teach against adultery, they commit it themselves, if not literally then in their hearts (Matt. 5:27-28). This is a violation of the seventh commandment (Ex. 20:14; Deut. 5:18).
10. The third violation is in the fourth question in v. 22: You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?
• Although Israel had sinned repeatedly against the second commandment in falling into idolatry during the period of her kings (Ex. 20:4-5; Deut. 5:8-9), since the Babylonian captivity the Jews never practiced that evil to any significant degree.
• However, for them to “rob temples” was not uncommon. This could refer to their robbing their own Temple in Jerusalem by cheating on their temple tax or some other kind of sacrilege.
• But most likely it refers to those Jews who plundered the gold and silver idols of the pagan temples for personal gain, which was forbidden in Deuteronomy 7:25. (Acts 19:37)
• Thomas Schreiner says it well, “Paul highlights an inconsistency among the Jews. They claim to detest idolatry and spurn any association with idols, yet they are willing to be defiled by profiting from the very idols that they detest.” (pg. 133)
11. Now it is important to understand that not all Jews were thieves, adulterers, and temple robbers. Paul is simply driving home the point that the Jews didn’t practice what they preached.
12. Douglas Moo observes rightly, “It is not, then, that all Jews commit these sins, but that these sins are representative of the contradiction between claim and conduct that does pervade Judaism.”
C. Paul then sums up these piercing questions (vv. 21-22) with a pointed conclusion in v. 23, which can be taken either as a question or a statement: You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? Or “you do dishonor God.”
1. Although the Jews could legitimately boast in the privilege of possessing, knowing, and teaching the Law, and in the God who gave them that Law, instead in their arrogance they thought the mere possession of it was theirs by right rather than by grace.
2. Therefore, they were completely satisfied simply in having, knowing, and teaching it and weren’t concerned in the least about living it out in their own lives. They didn’t care that they were “breaking the Law” themselves!
3. The word “breaking” (parabaseos) here means to transgress, go aside, and step over the line. They were like a corrupt cop who gives the pretense of upholding the law but breaks it himself.
4. Instead of using all of their privileges to bring glory and honor to God and blessing to others, by “breaking the Law” of God they were in fact bring “dishonor” to God. The word “dishonor” (atimazeis) here means to treat shamefully, despise, and insult.
5. Every sin is first and foremost a sin against God (Ps. 51:4). It is to spit in His face.
6. Now whereas every sin dishonors God, the sin of those who claim God’s name dishonors Him the most not only because they should know better, but also because of how it causes others to respond to their God.
D. Notice how Paul then proves they are dishonoring God by their sin by appealing to Scripture in v. 24: For “THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU,” just as it is written.
1. Most likely this quotation is from Isaiah 52:5. Some scholars have suggested that Paul cites Ezekiel 36:20 since God’s name is blasphemed because of the sin of Israel where in the Isaiah passage the blasphemy occurs because of the oppression by foreign nations.
2. However, the Isaiah passage is in the larger context (Isa. 40-66) of the people being in exile because of their sin (Isa. 40:2; 42:24-25; 43:22-28; 50:1). Therefore, Israel’s oppression was the result of her sin and Paul rightly applies this text to the Jews of his own day.
3. Regardless, in both texts the “name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles” because of the sin of His people. God’s “name” refers to His whole Person.
4. The sin of God’s people not only dishonors Him, but it also causes unbelievers, the very ones God wants to use us to reach, to blaspheme our God. And the word “blasphemed” (blasphemeitai) here means to slander, revile, scorn, mock, speak contemptuously of.
5. What a testimony! The one true God, whose sacred name none of these religious Jews would ever repeat with his lips was, because of their sin, scorned and ridiculed by the Gentiles.
6. The sin of God’s people causes unbelievers to think and say such things about their God as: “If that’s the kind of person they are, then their God isn’t any better;” or “He isn’t real” or “He is powerless since He obviously cannot help His own people.”
7. John Murray says it well, “The tragic irony is apparent. The Jews who claimed to be the leaders of the nations for the worship of the true God had become the instruments of provoking the nations to blasphemy. With this the indictment has reached its climax.” (pg. 85)
8. Therefore, the Jews wonderful privileges of their heritage and the Law cannot save them. On the contrary, their greater spiritual light and privilege only causes them to be more accountable to God and receive more severe punishment from Him (Jer. 25:29; Amos 3:2; Lk. 12:48).
In closing, what can we as believers today learn from this passage? Here are three brief things!
First, a person’s heritage or what he knows can never give him eternal security. It doesn’t matter if a person is born into a Christian family, went to Christian school, owns a Bible and knows it well, has been baptized, or belongs to a church, all of these things only hold them more accountable to God. It is only by personal faith in Jesus Christ and receiving Him as Savior and Lord that anyone can have eternal security. This is God’s only way to heaven!
Second, there is no greater kindness offered to another person than showing him that what he is trusting in for salvation is false, and then explaining to him the true way of salvation. For only after his false security is shattered and the danger of his eternal condemnation is exposed will the gospel of Jesus Christ appear to him as the Good News that it is.
Third, our personal testimony matters! Since we all struggle with indwelling sin until we die, we will be hypocrites at times, but by God’s grace in our lives and the power of the Holy Spirit our practice can and should be more consistently what we preach. It is not enough to simply know the truth; we are called to live out what we know. For James 1:22 says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” And James goes on to press this point especially to those of us who are teachers in 3:1, saying, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” May each one of us continually ask ourselves the question, “What do people think about God from watching my life?”